Some learn outside of class

Ryan Dionne

.Editor’s note: The following article is the second in a series that looks at how well University academics prepare students for life after college. Today’s article questions student leaders on whether their academic experience has been as valuable as their leadership experience.

For many students, a university education involves much more than going to classes and taking tests. Learning also takes place outside of the classroom.

Though some University students prepare for the “real world” solely by learning from textbooks, others are getting experience through student government.

Public speaking and organizational skills, self-confidence, working with a group and networking are some abilities students said they developed in student government.

“Student involvement, in general, taught me an exceptional amount of information about myself,” said Josh Colburn, a past Minnesota Student Association president and current University law student.

When Colburn entered the University, he said, he had difficulty communicating and speaking in front of large groups.

After being MSA president and speaking regularly throughout his one-year term, Colburn said, he became more comfortable in front of a crowd.

Leadership doesn’t teach people the ins and outs of the world, Colburn said. Rather, he said, it teaches them how to interact with others.

Learning how to converse with different groups of people who have diverse backgrounds is essential after graduation, and student groups help teach that, Colburn said.

Like Colburn, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly President Abu Jalal said he had a hard time with public speaking before becoming president.

“The first time I was to Morrill Hall, I was shaking or sweating profusely,” Jalal said. “I was really, really nervous.”

Jalal took an introductory speech class, but giving a speech in front of a large group is harder than in front of a class, he said.

Kapil Bansal, Minnesota International Student Association president, said he also learned how to communicate better because of his leadership role.

He said “gaining confidence through communication” has had the biggest impact on his life.

He is more comfortable speaking in front of large groups because of his presidency too, he said.

Chris Frazier, former GAPSA president, attributed nearly all of her public speaking experience to her position as assistant to the University’s executive associate vice president.

Public speaking was new to her, but after consistently delivering speeches, her skills developed, and she became more comfortable in front of people, Frazier said.

Being comfortable speaking in front of people is an important skill for life after college, Frazier said.

“I learned so much, and the skills that I learned from being a student leader are with me all the time,” she said.

Through public speaking, Frazier and Bansal gained valuable confidence in themselves, they said.

Once Bansal’s confidence grew, he said, people started trusting him with more responsibility, which led him to contribute more to his student association.

In high school, people are afraid their peers will make fun of them, Bansal said. But in college, students value different views, and it’s easier to speak out and contribute to a group, he said.

Contributing to and working with a group is another aspect of life many students learn outside the classroom.

“The biggest (thing I learned) is to work in a group,” Jalal said.

Working with a group and dealing with day-to-day problems will help students in the job market, he said.

“One part of being in college is being able to handle different things,” Jalal said.

Colburn said that in a group, people are problem-solvers or problem-finders, but both are equally important.

Being an MSA and University Senate member as well as the co-chairman of the University Commuter Connection has helped Sam Ero-Phillips realize he wants to work with people, he said.

“I think student groups make you aware of what you want to do (in life). The classroom gives you the tools to do them,” Ero-Phillips said.

Being able to apply knowledge from class is important, and some student groups help do that, he said.

Jalal said students need to experience other aspects of life to become well-rounded.

“(The) classroom can only give you book knowledge,” he said.

People who don’t belong to a group – whether it’s a place of worship, a community volunteer program or a student organization – are missing out on the college experience, Jalal said.

Craig Swan, University vice provost for undergraduate education, said students should continue to learn outside the classroom as long as it doesn’t interfere with their education.

“I do think that the priority has to go to graduation on a timely basis,” he said.

As long as students understand they are majoring in school rather than activities, Swan said, there shouldn’t be a problem deciding which area deserves more focus.

Lakeesha Ransom, a past GAPSA member and current University regent, said being involved will make students more well-rounded, which will make them more prepared to enter the workforce.

Some students become so dedicated to a group that they forget they’re students, while others are so engrossed in their studies that they don’t gain other valuable experiences, she said.

Gina Kundan, a student activities adviser, said many students she works with know when they’re overloaded with group involvement, so they often limit their participation before their grades suffer.

“If you’re just taking classes and leaving, then, yeah, you’re definitely missing the college experience,” she said.

Students should be involved in one or two different groups, but it shouldn’t cause their education to suffer, Kundan said.

The skills students learn in class and in organizations complement one another, she said.